Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Becoming a Non-Believer

Posted by Ann on July 14, 2008

At age 3 my parents had me memorize John 3:16. I know this because I still have my first Bible, with the dates I memorized various “core” verses prior to age 5 written on the inside cover. At a very early age I read through the Bible. Did I have a choice to believe differently? I was told the Bible was the Word of God, the truth, and that believing in Jesus was the only way to live. That to believe differently was absurd and foolish since it would be rejecting the “free gift” of salvation from the world and its corruption, and the death that would inevitably come and send me to hell. I was taught that God loved me more than any human could love.

A child’s beliefs about reality, truth, and the use of reason can be significantly affected by caregivers who are passionately invested in the proliferation of their own ideas. In my case, a child of fundamentalist Christian missionary parents who used punishment as a tool for correction, I was taught reason was unnecessary. That the truth was self-evident and could be easily discerned by reading the Bible. Unquestioning acceptance and obedience was a vital part of having faith. My parents taught their beliefs as reality, the way things are, and doubting was unacceptable. Believing I needed forgiveness for my failings as a human being, I had a lot of experience with repenting to my parents and peers for my sinfulness. Punishment, and this association with forgiveness, likely contributed to my realization there were inconsistencies in what I was being taught about God’s unconditional love and the actual practice of religious beliefs.

In the end, the religion of my parents didn’t take. After years of isolation, living almost exclusively in relation to other fundamentalist Christians, I found I didn’t accept the “truth.” Hadn’t really believed it for a long time. And, I experienced an interesting side effect. I began to lose feelings of guilt and shame over my sinful nature. The opposite could have been the case, is the case for many people whose faith grows with religious teaching. But something in me refused to accept it, this idea that I was a miserable sinner. Religion, to me, seemed to be all about fear and dependence and blind belief.

I stopped going to church regularly my Senior year at a Christian high school, using various excuses to skip. By college, I’d stopped attending church entirely, although for the next few years I would waffle when going through stressful experiences, falling back onto some form of faith for comfort, manifesting itself in a belief that something “out there” loved me and was intimately involved in my day to day life. Not really God in the traditional sense. More like a universal, transcendental connection kinda thing.

The more I learned to rely on reason, my natural tendency toward evidence based decision making began to overrule my desire to “fit in”. Marrying someone who was also a critic of religion was a turning point for me. It was a struggle to come to terms with my feeling of isolation from most everyone I knew at the time, but meeting someone else who shared my skepticism made a difference. I was afraid to be myself, to be authentic. I began to realize how important it was to me to be true to myself and to what I knew to be true as based on the evidence–that there is no evidence to support a belief in a God.

The ideas and perspectives of other people have always been interesting to me. My decision to let go of unsupported beliefs was facilitated by the books I read. One of the first books I read on atheism, or a lack of belief in a deity, was Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation. It is a good read for Christians who wonder how people can be non-theists. Fairly short and addressed directly to Christians, it refutes many of the myths Christians hold about atheists. The book begins:

Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.

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One Response to “Becoming a Non-Believer”

  1. jess said

    thank you for contributing your thoughts to this blog. i am a recent de-convert, and my experience has been similar to yours. it’s always comforting to know someone else is dealing with the same stuff. it’s encouragement for me to stay true to myself and my thoughts despite the tension it causes between me and my friends and family.

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